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“Expel the Darkness”: The Rising Tide of Israel’s Far-Right

On 10 December 2012, Aryeh Eldad and Michael Ben-Ari, two members of Israel’s legislature, the Knesset, held a small rally in Levinsky Park in south Tel Aviv. The right-wing politicians, from the Strong Israel party, lit Hanukah candles with several dozen supporters in order to “expel the darkness”, a reference to both a classic Hanukah song and to the large number of African asylum seekers who live in south Tel Aviv. These asylum seekers have been blamed by some for an increase in crime, despite a lack of evidence for an increase at all. The Strong Israel party also recently had one of their campaign advertisements banned as racist and discriminatory towards Arabs.

The party’s platform is ultra-nationalist, and statements by party leaders have proved hostile towards Arabs, Israeli leftists, Africans, and the LGBT community, among others. Yet, this party is projected to increase its share in the Knesset in Israel’s upcoming elections, along with other far-right parties such as The Jewish Home, a party that opposes a two-state solution and is expected to become the third largest party in the next parliament.

In addition, the traditionally center-right party Likud has shifted drastically to the right, with prominent moderates such as Benny Begin, the son of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, purged from high position in the party list in favour of hardliners like Danny Danon, a staunch opponent of the two-state solution. Likud also formed an electoral coalition with the secular nationalist party Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel is Our Home), placing controversial (former) foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman at the second spot on the party list. Yet even with this sharp turn to the right, Likud has lost ground in recent polls, almost exclusively to their right flank.

Meanwhile, the Israeli left and center has fragmented, with four parties that can reasonably claim to represent the center-left splitting the vote. All of these parties are based more on personality politics than new policies. The left and center combined, in recent polls, is expected to take only 54 of 120 seats, including anti-Zionist Arab and communist parties. This leaves a right-wing coalition of settlers, ultra-nationalists, Ultra-Orthodox or “Haredi” parties, and neoliberals with a solid grip on power. Yet, this coaltion is sure to be beset with internal fissures, between secularists and the religious, between moderates and hardliners, and between different politicians’ egos; there is a reason Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s previous government had 30 ministers.

This spells trouble for Israel, which faces a number of increasingly urgent problems. Internal conflicts continue to emerge between secular Jews and Haredim, most prominently over the mass exemption of Haredim from military service. Hostility towards Arabs is growing, as evidenced by the mainstreaming of parties that call for stripping Arabs of citizenship if they refuse to pledge allegiance to a ‘Jewish state’. In addition, rhetoric calling the growing Arab share of the population as a ‘demographic crisis’ is more and more widespread.

On the international front, tensions with Iran continue, Syria is in a state of civil war, and Egypt is undergoing substantial turmoil under a government that has publicly considered ‘reviewing’ the Israel-Egypt peace treaty. Finally, the crisis of Palestine continues to become more intractable. Palestinian efforts to gain recognition at the UN mean looming international pressure on Israel, while the occupation and settlements become increasingly entrenched.

Even within the government, there is pressure to shift rightward in order to outflank other right-wing parties, such as with Netanyahu’s announcement of building in the E-1 area of the West Bank, considered the final straw by many in the death of a two-state solution. There is little argument anymore as to whether or not the two-state solution is in trouble, only whether or not it is on life support or dead in the water.

The last thing Israel needs with these troubles brewing is a government that is suspicious of many of its citizens, dismissive of the fading hopes for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, enamored with religious-nationalist ideas of a Greater Israel, and constantly engaging in internal outbidding, outflanking each other for committed far-right leaning votes. If this is what Israeli voters prefer, it is their choice, but Israel will be in for bitter medicine indeed in the years to come.

– Alexander Langer


( Featured photo : AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works ygurvitz, Creative Commons, Flickr)

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One comment

  1. your analysis is way off… first of all, the strong party won’t even make it into the knesset with 1 seat, so i don’t know where you got that info…but more importantly, what you are considering “center” is actually left in israeli terms, what you are considering “right” is the actual center of the political sphere in israel, which is directly where netenyahu finds himself, and what you consider “far right” is the mainstream right….the differences between the left/center/right in israel is as follows: the left supports dividing jerusalem, and they are a substantial minority with no hope of gaining power… the center will hold onto east jerusalem and major settlement blocs, but is willing to cede smaller settlements, whereas the right refuses to cede anything. if that sounds “extreme-right” to you should note that that last group makes up somewhere between 25%-33% of the nation…also, keep in mind that not even the “left” is even considering evacuation major settlements, and also the demographic and political trends in israel are moving right and aren’t coming back, so i think the “bitter medicine” you speak of will be something the Palestinians, UN, US and everyone else will have to stomach…Israel’s right-wing will only gain more power in elections to come, and the PM after Netenyahu (probably naftali…) will have much stronger support in knesset and among voters to snub the rest of the world community. it is what it is.

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